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The Web of Life   By: (1868-1938)

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TO G. R. C.

" Hear from the spirit world this mystery: Creation is summed up, O man, in thee; Angel and demon, man and beast, art thou, Yea, thou art all thou dost appear to be! "




The young surgeon examined the man as he lay on the hospital chair in which ward attendants had left him. The surgeon's fingers touched him deftly, here and there, as if to test the endurance of the flesh he had to deal with. The head nurse followed his swift movements, wearily moving an incandescent light hither and thither, observing the surgeon with languid interest. Another nurse, much younger, without the "black band," watched the surgeon from the foot of the cot. Beads of perspiration chased themselves down her pale face, caused less by sympathy than by sheer weariness and heat. The small receiving room of St. Isidore's was close and stuffy, surcharged with odors of iodoform and ether. The Chicago spring, so long delayed, had blazed with a sudden fury the last week in March, and now at ten o'clock not a capful of air strayed into the room, even through the open windows that faced the lake.

The patient groaned when the surgeon's fingers first touched him, then relapsed into the spluttering, labored respiration of a man in liquor or in heavy pain. A stolid young man who carried the case of instruments freshly steaming from their antiseptic bath made an observation which the surgeon apparently did not hear. He was thinking, now, his thin face set in a frown, the upper teeth biting hard over the under lip and drawing up the pointed beard. While he thought, he watched the man extended on the chair, watched him like an alert cat, to extract from him some hint as to what he should do. This absorption seemed to ignore completely the other occupants of the room, of whom he was the central, commanding figure. The head nurse held the lamp carelessly, resting her hand over one hip thrown out, her figure drooping into an ungainly pose. She gazed at the surgeon steadily, as if puzzled at his intense preoccupation over the common case of a man "shot in a row." Her eyes travelled over the surgeon's neat fitting evening dress, which was so bizarre here in the dingy receiving room, redolent of bloody tasks. Evidently he had been out to some dinner or party, and when the injured man was brought in had merely donned his rumpled linen jacket with its right sleeve half torn from the socket. A spot of blood had already spurted into the white bosom of his shirt, smearing its way over the pearl button, and running under the crisp fold of the shirt. The head nurse was too tired and listless to be impatient, but she had been called out of hours on this emergency case, and she was not used to the surgeon's preoccupation. Such things usually went off rapidly at St. Isidore's, and she could hear the tinkle of the bell as the hall door opened for another case. It would be midnight before she could get back to bed! The hospital was short handed, as usual.

The younger nurse was not watching the patient, nor the good looking young surgeon, who seemed to be the special property of her superior. Even in her few months of training she had learned to keep herself calm and serviceable, and not to let her mind speculate idly. She was gazing out of the window into the dull night. Some locomotives in the railroad yards just outside were puffing lazily, breathing themselves deeply in the damp, spring air. One hoarser note than the others struck familiarly on the nurse's ear. That was the voice of the engine on the ten thirty through express, which was waiting to take its train to the east. She knew that engine's throb, for it was the engine that stood in the yards every evening while she made her first rounds for the night... Continue reading book >>

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